Extinction Rebellion

overall rating:

1.5

planets

Jana Vítková
7/2/2021
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Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an environmental movement with the stated aim of using nonviolent civil disobedience to compel government action and avoid tipping points in the planetary system. Our climate is changing faster than scientists predicted and the stakes are high, which is why XR believes their mission is now more relevant than ever. When I say the stakes are high, I mean it – biodiversity loss, crop failure, social and ecological collapse, and mass extinction. This is not a problem of one country, not even of one continent, but of the entire world. XR is doing a great job at spreading awareness about environmental and social justice while being active in 80 countries, consisting of 1191 groups and 332 upcoming events (at the time of writing this review).

However, there are also some issues with the XR movement. Firstly, XR tends to be controversial among both climate enthusiasts and climate deniers for their nonpolitical stance in the climate sector. This would not be a problem if not for the reality of the transformations needed to address the climate and ecological crises being fundamentally political. Any social movement seeking to avert climate and ecological breakdown cannot simply ignore the political reality of the crisis. Without a political component that drives legislative change, XR could risk leading a mass of motivated people nowhere. 

Secondly, XR seeks to use mass arrests and incarcerations as a vehicle for change. They believe it is because of that sacrifice – the willingness to be arrested and go to prison – that people will take their message seriously, but it is a strategy that many activists of colour say they cannot adopt. The grassroots collective Wretched of The Earth expressed their concerns regarding the strategy in an open letter in which XR was challenged to rethink its message to take into account an ongoing analysis of privilege, as well as the reality of police and state violence. On top of that, XR was accused by Green and Black Cross (an organisation that provides legal support and solidarity to those involved in protest activities) of providing improper legal advice and support for when protestors get arrested.

Thirdly, XR lacks inclusive cultures in their movement. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, protest groups would often meet in pubs, which can be alienating for people practicing Islam. Other actions sometimes involve conditions people are not very comfortable with, such as hiking or camping, activities that people from an ethnic minority background are less likely to visit due to the lack of appropriate resources. Moreover, the protest culture of XR’s core supporters is rooted in a new age of hippies doing yoga and meditating for the planet while listening to psytrance music and enjoying their vegan meals prepared in reusable containers. As this kind of protest culture is slowly becoming the norm, many people of colour find it difficult to enter the climate justice space as they simply do not feel like they belong to this group. Overall, grassroots organising is often very isolating for people of colour, particularly when deciding the culture and activities of said organisation.

Fourthly, XR’s message spreads the idea that humanity is running out of time. 'If we do not act now, we face extinction' is commonly referenced. However, as critics have pointed out, the very real effects of climate change and environmental destruction are already being felt by billions of people. This messaging discounts the experiences of many in the Global South. Communities, activists, and individuals have been fighting and experiencing the devastating effects of climate change for decades – for them, the emergency has been real for a long time. There is a wide gap between those who have created the crisis and those who have suffered from it, which is not directly addressed by XR. From the beginning, XR has faced questions over its ability to reach out to diverse communities. As mentioned above, its tactics are often seen as inadequate to compel government action to avoid the climate crisis, which leaves one thinking that XR does not fully support the intersectional climate movement that is truly representative of all.

Fortunately, XR has listened to the criticisms and is prepared to make changes in order to reach as many people as possible. First of all, the global movement is currently trying to include a fourth demand on top of their three core pillars (tell the truth, act now, and go beyond politics) that would demand a just transition inclusive of all people and communities. It would seek to establish reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of colour, and poor communities for years of environmental injustice. This demand is already adopted by the US branch of the XR movement. Second of all, XR is inclusive of people of colour in their planned mass demonstrations. For example, one of their events in the United Kingdom in 2019 was opened by an Asian environmentalist, Zion Lights, who spoke of the struggles of indigenous communities. Another of their demonstrations also included a “climate justice” bloc where activists explicitly talked about the connections between ecological destruction, racism, and inequality. However, more needs to be done for me to fully recommend supporting the movement.

What it's made of:

2

XR is made of trained volunteers, donations, and informative as well as action-based events. If you wish to become an XR volunteer, you will first have to look up your local XR group, sign up for one of their roles online, and attend an introduction training delivered by an XR member. XR is famous for being decentralised in its structure, which means that every single member of XR is collectively responsible to create an ideal organisation that challenges those in power. At the same time, every local group is responsible for organising relevant events and actions independently, providing that they respect the 10 XR’s core principles and values. To organise the movement, local groups are structured with various 'working groups' taking care of strategy, outreach, well-being, and support. The Economist identified XR as ‘so well organised’ because they use the tenets of holacracy (a method of decentralized management) to operate more effectively against strong state opposition. XR’s structure seeks to take into account every single member of the movement equally and is one of the most transparent organisations.

Donations are stated to be supporting the XR Global Support team in facilitating the transparent flow of resources to local XR groups, especially in countries where fundraising efforts are a challenge. The aim is to empower these local groups to become self-sustaining. The Global Support team also strengthens XR’s communications and technological infrastructure to allow for safe and secure activist engagement on renewable-energy run platforms. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to find what these renewable-energy run platforms are exactly. Interestingly, XR explicitly says that they do not endorse or create any merchandise and that they will pursue and prosecute anyone who does.

XR also offers a diverse selection of events. Firstly, there are informative introductory events for all persons that wish to get familiarised with XR, such as 'Welcome to Extinction Rebellion’ or ‘Rebellion of One'. Secondly, XR organises action-based events around important dates and venues to address the climate crisis. An example of such events can be directly linked to the recent protest at the G7 Summit. XR organised a series of demonstrations throughout the three-day event to address the failure to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement goals and general inaction to address the climate and ecological emergency. Thirdly, XR delivers many different training sessions regarding activism, organisation, and empathy. All events differ depending on the location of the local group, which is why I would encourage you to search for your local hub to know where and when to join an XR event.

How it's made:

1.5

The organisation aims to provide sustainable and effective change in a non-violent, educated, and apolitical way. The main targets of change are connected to their global campaigns, which are linked to the main three core demands of XR: tell the truth, act now, and go beyond politics. In order to understand how XR aims to challenge power and seeks change, I find it important to introduce these three core demands in more detail.

Firstly, ‘tell the truth’ states that governments must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency and work with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change. Secondly, ‘act now’ is linked to the need of governments to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025. Thirdly, ‘go beyond politics’ preaches that governments must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice. Citizens’ assemblies are a form of deliberative democracy – a process in which ordinary people make political decisions. Public hearings, ranging from citizens’ juries with less than twenty people to citizens’ summits of more than seven hundred, have transformed policy-making in Australia, Belgium, Canada, India, Ireland, Poland, and the UK. In a citizens’ assembly, a group of randomly selected members of the public reflects on an issue of public concern. The aim is to bring together a cross-section of society. Participants hear from experts and stakeholders, ask questions, deliberate on policy options and make recommendations that shape government policy. The process is designed to ensure that each Assembly reflects the whole country in terms of characteristics such as gender, age, ethnicity, education level, and geography. Together they work through their differences and draft and vote on recommendations.

Overall, XR is extremely open about its vision of challenging power in a nonviolent and apolitical manner. What they seem to lack is the acknowledgement that by being apolitical they are not able to fully transform the structures currently in place. Furthermore, their ‘apolitical’ vision seems to be contradictory since they are also calling on governments to act. Lastly, the Citizens' Assemblies are a great idea to create a participatory change among a diverse selection of people. However, it seems to be a bit unlikely that this process is always the most effective and just. Overall, I have got the feeling that their 'how' of creating an inclusive and participatory movement looks very nice when written on a piece of paper, but does not reflect the reality of a majorly white-populated movement.

Who makes it:

2

The people who make up XR are central to the three core demands of following its climate mission. The organisation is open to everyone interested in joining. If you cannot find a local XR hub near you, they strongly encourage you to establish your own! XR is happy to provide you with relevant training and individually help you create your local hub if you personally contact them. XR states on their official website that they need anyone and everyone – whoever you are, however much time you have – to help build a powerful movement. XR’s vision of change involves mass participation, something you can become involved in by 1) taking part in action, 2) getting involved in your community, 3) helping organise a movement, and 4) donating. Whichever option(s) you choose, you can find training for your role and learn more about Extinction Rebellion at one of their learning trainings (trainings specifically tailored for each one of their voluntary positions). If you are not sure which option is for you, take the Rebellion Academy quiz to find out (https://uk.rebellion.academy)! 

In conclusion, I think XR is a strong environmental movement with a truly important vision. I wholeheartedly appreciate the energy and enthusiasm XR has brought to the environmental movement. It brings me hope to see so many people mobilising and taking action for a more sustainable and equal world. However, as outlined above, I feel there are key aspects of their approach that need to further evolve. XR claims that they “are working to build a movement that is participatory, decentralised, and inclusive”, which is why I encourage them to do more in the spirit of these principles. It is wonderful to see that XR has already organised various learning and listening activities, showing that they acknowledge some of the shortcomings in their approach. This is why I confidently trust that XR is still learning and working to improve from its not-so-distant past to better its techniques for the future.

Sources:

https://extinctionrebellion.uk
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